Contact

I was a late adopter of cell phones for my age bracket. When I was 20 years old, one of my jobs was as a stable hand. I loved it. I lived on the farm, and worked 3 hours each morning from 6 AM to 9 AM in exchange for free room and board plus a modest salary. The rest of the day was mine to do what I wanted, and I worked a more serious, career-focused job while maintaining an incredibly low cost of living. I had a junker car that I owned outright. I had no debt and no real bills. And no cell phone.

Humorously enough, I had a computer and internet. Just no phone. I wasn’t impossible to reach – you could email me! If, you know, I was in front of my computer to check it. Which was almost never.

Of course, cell phones weren’t what they are now. The first iPhone was still years away. Phones just called and texted people. Maybe they played Tetris. And I was perfectly happy not having one. Eventually, though, they got better and better – and soon their allure became irresistible, as this small pocket device could replace a large number of bulky objects, and I’m very pro-stuff-reduction.

The problem is, this awesome little computing machine was also… well, a phone.

Nowadays, I’m not a stable hand. I’m a father of three who remotely manages a team of a half-dozen people and reports to several others. In other words, I need to be reachable, virtually 24/7. The little computer that I wanted became a little computer that I didn’t want, but it’s still attached to a phone I didn’t want then, but do need now.

I’m not anti-tech. I’m no luddite, by any means. But modern society, even in recent memory, used to have assumptions that for large swaths of your day you were just unreachable, and that was okay. It didn’t come with guilt, it didn’t come with panic. Modern life wasn’t built on the explicit assumption that every member of it can be contacted at any time.

I definitely have “contact anxiety.” If I’m out of contact for even a short period, I tend to start to worry that something bad is happening.

Someday, though. Someday when my modern work is done, I’ll retire. And I won’t retire from being productive, no. I’ll be building and writing and thinking and whatever else I want to do until they put me in the ground. But some day I’ll retire from everyone’s contact list – it will be hard to get ahold of me, and I will not feel anxious or guilty about it, and I will love it very much.

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